It’s twenty years since Nigella Lawson’s bestselling and reputation landing, ‘How to Be a Domestic Goddess’ was released. Food culture has changed irrevocably since then and in ways we all participate – whether it be Instagramming our breakfast, using delivery services such as Uber Eats, or watching the endless depictions of beautiful people delicately creating sumptuous treats in glossy, wonderfully-lit kitchens.
For us 20-somethings, we've only really ever known the post-Domestic Goddess world, yet cookery is something that increasingly causes us stress, something we are too overstretched or overtired to give any thought, energy or time to. There’s a certain pressure to perform as a host which is spurred on by the likes of cooking shows from a Jamie or Nigella type, reality contests such as Masterchef or the plethora of lifestyle bloggers, grammers and 'foodies' who often set the bar quite high.
The first dinner party I ever held was in a big, rundown house I lived in near my university. I invited everyone – entertaining a private vision of myself becomingly attired in a cute apron and perfect dress, setting steaming hot plates of beautiful food before my grateful guests. I read up on recipes and cooked Moroccan-style tagines (which I had never attempted before).
I was stressed by my old, cheap pots and pans with their wobbly handles threatening to spill my lovingly spiced stews onto the floor. I was stressed by my guests, who got drunker and drunker whilst I laboured over the stove. By the time dinner was served and everyone was slumped and satisfied in their chairs, I was so strung out that I was ready to go to bed.
How can you step away from this stress? My answer turns back to Nigella and the Domestic Goddess (which is a term I would like to use in a genderless way. Please, we can all be goddesses). For Nigella, what’s important is not being a domestic goddess, but rather feeling like one.
As WikiHow advises: “Being a domestic goddess has distinct advantages, regardless of whether you live alone or serve as the matron of a big family. If you lack cleaning, cooking, and sewing skills, learning to master these tasks may seem intimidating. The key is to start small and avoid overwhelming yourself. With time and patience, you can polish your skills to goddess level.”
With this in mind, I’ve embraced the casual spread - knowing that even presenting the simplest food to others will reap me their admiration and gratitude. What’s more, when I do have guests over I can greet them genuinely smiling, feed them on time, and sail serenely into the evening with a glass of wine in hand.
Most of my casual spread is shop bought – and I will leave the art of cheese making, bread making and olive curing to the professionals (the time I tried to cure my own olives from a tree in our backyard would require its own article).
For Domestic Goddess credentials, make an olive tapenade (although it feels rather loaded after that Black Mirror episode). I make mine by crushing garlic and grating/pounding/otherwise reducing it to a paste with a big old pinch of salt and then mixing with finely chopped olives.
I serve a big tray of roasted vegetables for veg-heavy gatherings – placing pumpkin, sweet potato, cauliflower and beetroot, in any combination, oiled and seasoned in an oven for twenty-something minutes before the guests are set to arrive.
Take all of your cheeses, meats, dips out of any supermarket packaging and place them becomingly in nice bowls and trays (which you should have sourced from your local op shop), surrounded by plates of crackers and slices of baguette. Do it before your guests arrive if that makes you feel less stressed, or after if the first guests arrive annoyingly on time.
Let everything – even anything hot like vegetables – sit at room temperature. Then, brimming with domestic goddess contentment – pour yourself that well deserved glass of wine.
Madeline Frohlich has officially reached her mid-twenties and still trying to find the perfect balance between wild hedonism and wholesome domestic life.